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Friday, May 19, 2017

Politicians should not play the rigged religious game

“The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.”
- Mark Twain
About this Hannah Yeoh fiasco, where do I begin? A good place to start would be the PAS research centre challenge to the DAP to respond to Iain Buchanan’s book ‘Sang Nila Utama and the Lion of Judah: Dominionism and Christian Zionism in Malaysia’.
I do not know what kind of a research centre this is because Lim Kit Siang did respond to the allegations that the book put forward in a speech at the DAP National Retreat’s party transformational debate in 2016. Here is the response from part of the speech -
“There are allegations that a meeting was held in Penang to formulate the objective of a Christian Malaysia, there are people who put up a picture of the DAP as an evangelical party, there is a new book entitled ‘Sang Nila Utama and the Lion of Judah’ which is very serious and wicked attack that there is a conspiracy in the country to evangelise Malaysia, and the DAP is somehow part of it.
“These are all lies. These are all untrue. But these are fodder for the Umno propagandists, to demonise the DAP and mislead the Malays with the false picture that this as a battle of Malays versus Chinese, and Muslims versus Christians. These are not true at all but how do we debunk these lies?”
That question - how do we debunk these lies? - has a very simple answer. You debunk those lies by maintaining a strict separation between religion and state. It does not really matter whose religion it is but what is important is that people know that this line, the one between mosque and state, or church and state, or temple and state, or the numerous other examples that a diverse religious society offers, is zealously guarded by those who claim to want a secular state.
The only important question is does Selangor assembly speaker Hannah Yeoh believe in a secular state? I think she does. In a blog post titled ‘Legislate - First Things First’ (written in 2015, the same year her book was published), she wrote, “God created man or woman with a free mind and most importantly a free will. God allows us to make decisions and face their consequences. And if this timeless God Almighty does not see it right to force His ways down our throats, who are we then (politicians with a mandate restricted by a political term) to shove holy laws down the throats of our electorates?”
There is history here and to place the blame solely on the hegemon is to ignore the mistakes that the opposition made. This unpalatable history to some is also the reason why religion has become so toxic in this country. We should separate what the Umno hegemon has done and what the opposition has done with its own religious intrigues. I do not really know what a "dialogue of life" is - binge watching Stanley Kubrick movies, perhaps? - but I do know that politicians do not have this dialogue.
The ‘PAS for All’ kool-aid was not an example of a “dialogue of life” but rather an example of two extremely different interpretations of the Abrahamic faith embracing the other for political profit.  This was a mistake which ultimately fractured an Islamic political party with an extremely long and (truth be told) diverse history.
Look, in Malaysia there was a period when people from different faiths were living together and for the most part getting along. There is enough empirical evidence to demonstrate that the Muslim identity post-independence has evolved. The reason for this is simple. Islam for reasons which is beyond the scope of this article - and which I have written about in many other articles - has been used as an instrument to separate the majority from the minority for political purposes.
Okay, say you have a weaponised Islam, now you need an enemy to use it against, right? Who is this enemy? What have the exposes of the Biro Tatanegara (BTN) classes taught us? That the enemies are the non-Muslims. That Islam is under siege. That the non-Malays are here to make Malays, slaves in their own lands.
The end of the beginning
So when DAP leader Lim Guan Eng asks - "Is it wrong for non-Muslims to talk about their own faith? She (Yeoh) is not preaching (to Muslims)" - any rational person should ask in return, is it productive for a high-profile Christian politician in a country where Islam has been weaponised - like most Islamic countries - to talk about her faith in a climate where religion is used by the hegemon to bolster support of its base by attacking the politician’s religion?
Furthermore, why on earth is the DAP (a party which loudly proclaims it has a secular agenda) substantially increasing funding for Muslims. Wait, let me guess. This is all part of the political game to bolster DAP’s credibility and reputation with the Muslim polity, right?
Funding Muslims organisation for political profit is like supplying ammunition to the religious group which has no problem toeing the Muslim party line when the chips are down. There are many secular alternatives to appeal to the Malay demographic but of course this was not even a consideration because it does not get much play, it takes time and involves commitment to principles that needs to be consistently monitored and defended.
This was the end of the beginning, so to speak. The alliance with PAS was in reality a political failure but because of the way it has been spun, it became a religious failure. Surely the DAP knew that there were elements in PAS that did not subscribe to a secular agenda? Surely the DAP knew that the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat had placed pragmatism over zealotry and that the wolves at the door were waiting for providence to reassert their religious imperatives?
What do you think was happening when all these political operatives from DAP were schmoozing in mosques while promulgating the gospel that all religions are essentially the same and have “universal” values when Islam in this country has a special position, tied with race? I will tell you what was happening. The kind of Islam that is advocated by the hegemon was becoming mainstream in the opposition. And now there are Muslim opposition supporters who will support PAS even though it means siding with Umno because they think Islam is under threat.
When PAS information chief Nasrudin Hassan warns, "Enemies of Islam have united regardless of ideology and parties to wrest economic and political power in the country”, this is exactly the same propaganda that Umno used against the opposition when the DAP was buddy-buddy with PAS.
It all goes back to what Hannah Yeoh said in her post that I quoted. Religion should be left out of the political equation even when you are a religious politician. If I am reading her wrongly, she is free to dispute my interpretation.
If you truly are a secular politician and truly believe in secular principles, then you leave your faith at the door. This goes for every politician who whines about how much better a secular state is compared to a theocracy. The only way to change the game is to leave religion out of politics in terms of personal expression, but more importantly, policy decisions. That is the price you pay for being a politician who subscribes to secular principles.
However, if you insist on playing the hegemon’s rigged religious game with one hand tied behind your back, do not complain when you lose the game. When it comes to religion, the Umno House and its proxies always win.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.- Mkini

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